REVIEWS:  diversions 24110 The Monckton Album  


If you have never listened to the delicious music of Lionel Monckton, or, more likely, if you have not come across his Edwardian Musical Comedies for far too long, then this super Divine Art CD is for you. It was recorded in Tallin, the capital of Estonia, at the State Philharmonic’s Concert Hall and the result is sheer joy. The chosen excerpts are from the Cingalee, the Arcadians, and The Quaker Girl, dating from 1903, 1904 and 1910 respectively. I must admit that The Cingalee, subtitled Sunney Ceylon, was new to me, but now it lives by the CD player and Tea, Tea, Tea and Sloe Eyes are settled nicely in my memory. The other two titles are full of gems and I really regret not having seen a Monckton musical on stage. Hopefully, with this brilliant CD to inspire audiences and the remarkable Theatre Bel-Etage on the loose, Monckton will be back where he belongs.
Denby Richards

It must be down to the British reluctance to appreciate its own musical heritage that Lionel Monckton’s marvellous melodies have become so largely forgotten, Any other country would hold them in esteem, as witness the fact that it has taken a group of Estonian enthusiasts to produce this collection of selections from three of Monckton’s most successful musicals.

Quite delightful it is too, and for much of the time one would have no idea that the performers were other than professional British performers singing in their native tongue. Above all, Mart Sander – principal singer, as well as conductor of the authentic orchestrations – demonstrates a fine romantic baritone in “Pearl of Sweet Ceylon”, a beautiful number that shows how well shaped and heartfelt Monckton’s melodies could be. Mariliina von Uexküll’s sweet-toned soprano is no less winning as the leading female roles.

The pity is that in promoting Monckton’s just claims the documentation virtually ignores the contributions of co-composers Paul Rubens and Howard Talbot. From The Cingalee, Rubens’s “Sloe Eyes” solo and his duets “Monkeys” and “You and I” are real charmers, while Talbot’s numbers such as “Half Past Two” contributed a great deal to the lasting success of The Arcadians. The Quaker Girl, though, is pure Monckton, demonstrating again in numbers such as “A Dancing Lesson” and “Little Grey Bonnet” how well-fashioned his melodies were. Balance between voices and orchestra is not always ideal; but that scarcely detracts from the appeal of an enterprising and delightful issue.
Andrew Lamb

This recording is a worthwhile collector's item. No recordings are to be found in the catalogue of two of the works represented. The Arcadians was issued by EMI on a highlights disc (Sadler's Wells performance) and later complete with dialogue by Ohio Light Opera. The Cingalee and The Quaker Girl have been generally forgotten works.

This presentation is the inspiration of the English-speaking baritone, Mart Sander, whom I met in Cirencester & Cheltenham, England during the summer of 2002 at the Sir Arthur Sullivan Society convention. Full marks to the Estonians for reviving this important music by Monckton in an excellent recording with good orchestral backing. Many readers will be aware that Monckton's musicals were not entirely his own work and often relied on contributions by Talbot or Rubens. This genre is so much a part of Britain's heritage that I am amazed to find The Quaker Girl (popular with amateur operatic circles up to the 1960s) has never been recorded since the acoustic days of 78s, and only then in a band selection.

The Cingalee ran for 365 performances in London and was a moderate success while The Quaker Girl's run of 536 performances was topped by The Arcadians with a considerable 809 performances: they remained popular for a long time. Set in Ceylon, The Cingalee contains little in the music to give it an Eastern flavour yet is remembered for Monckton's catchy sextet, The Island of Gay Ceylon [tk.5] and Ruben's, White and Brown Girl [tk.7]. It is a pity that The Island of Gay Ceylon is abridged because the quality of the material we hear is good.

The Arcadians is a make-believe story which opens in Arcadia and ends in a London street. The Pipes of Pan, Charming Weather and Back your Fancy are key numbers that are often encored. The Quaker Girl is particularly tuneful and in its story contrasts Quaker morality with Parisienne high fashion. Only Come to the Ball [tk.39] continues to be well known, but listen to Tony from America [tk.35] and When a bad bad Boy numbers [not represented]. The numbers have a distinctive charm that should not be underestimated. This is an enjoyable and well recorded disc. It should be pointed out that the songs are of a continuously running medley and not in the order they appear in the show. The links are nicely arranged. The opening chorus [tk.1] is really a charming chorus from Act II where the chorus singing has been raised an octave (with good effect). I should have preferred this complete rather than punctuate it with a short 'Saleem' chorus (also from Act II). The quality of English is excellent: there is little hint of the lyrics not being delivered by singers natively English though at times consonants might have been made more deliberately. Certainly, both the pace and idiom of Edwardian operetta have been well studied by this entrepreneuring Bel Etage group. I find the quality of the singing excellent with warm sopranos providing good expression, a distinctive tenor and resonant baritone, as well as the support of an excellent chorus. In some of the tracks the singers are placed more forward on the sound stage than I should have preferred since this can blot out the detail of orchestral colour.

A full colour booklet is nicely arranged with lyrics and useful background historical notes in English. Maybe the potential in this music will be generally recognised to consider more complete recordings of The Country Girl, Miss Gibbs, or The Rebel Maid.
Raymond Walker

I suppose there are more unlikely places to be performing and recording Lionel Monckton’s vivacious Edwardiana – Venezuela, maybe or Istanbul – but Estonia must rate pretty high amongst them. That Tallinn boasts a repertory company so attuned to Monckton seems down largely to one man, conductor and baritone Mart Sander, whose role as impresario has paid off quite handsomely in this release. Monckton has fared poorly on disc over the last few decades (though HMV had his music in their catalogues before the First World War and Gertie Millar was a well-known exponent on disc) and highlights selections or orchestral translations are the most many will have heard of him. Cingalee and The Quaker Girl are, in any case, less well known than The Arcadians, which has at least surfaced in abridged form on disc before.

All three stage comedies are presented as selections. Numbers follow each other without spoken dialogue; sometimes, Beechamesquely, Sander has interpolated choruses or songs from one Act to another. As with the bold Bart’s Handelian reorganisation the judgement is invariably astute and the selections are unjoltingly cleverly constructed. The Cingalee had a very respectable run at Daly’s Theatre in the West End but the Ceylonese tea planter’s theme was not a big draw on Broadway where it flopped. Messrs Gilbert and Sullivan haunt the delightful song Pearl of SweetCeylon and there’s plenty of pep in the ensemble sextet In the Island of Gay Ceylon. When it comes to The Arcadians’ song My Motter Sander proves a dab hand at Estonian Cockney and at playing the lush and Mariliina von Uexküll proves to have a fine, flexible voice with operatic-soubrettish quality (good coloratura as well) as she copes neatly with her tongue-twisting song Pipes of Pan – not easy to do even if your first language is English. There are plenty of opportunities for character singing and acting here and the orchestra has a good supportive opportunity in Arcady is Ever Young. The Quaker Girl was a hit in London and New York in 1910 and 1911 – maybe the saving grace American diplomat (with the improbable name of Tony Chute) who sweeps the heroine off to the New World had something to do with it. There are moments of farce (French milliners) and hymnal purity in the village (the austere Quakers) and also some more frolicsome music for the less buttoned up villagers.

The principals and band prove worthy ambassadors for this music, much of which they have excavated on disc for the first time. Not all the singers’ English is idiomatic – there’s a rather Germanic tenor and the contralto sounds more Michigan than Mayfair – but it’s all enjoyable, welcoming stuff nevertheless. The libretti are printed, helpfully, in different colours. So next time you’re tempted to throw a stag night in "Europe’s New Prague" I recommend popping in to the Theatre Bel-Etage instead. You might even find Mart Sander there, twirling his cane.
Jonathan Woolf

AMAZON.COM (and Art Times, Brattleboro Reformer, Brattleboro Town Crier, Monadnock Shopper, Showcase Magazine, Eagle Times, Keene Sentinel, – all USA):
Imagine this. I play you a CD of musical comedy music by a composer I will not name. If you are familiar with late 19th and early 20th century stage music, you might guess Victor Herbert, early Jerome Kern, early and middle Sigmund Romberg. The tunes are all attractive, the lyrics pleasant and sometimes even clever — and the whole thing seems to stand somewhere between Gilbert and Sullivan and Rodgers and Hart. Then I tell you the composer is Lionel Monckton and you go, "Huh?"

Well, in his day, Lionel John Alexander Monckton (1861-1923) was quite popular in England. He would be all but forgotten today if it were not for a complete recording of his "The Arcadians" on the Troy label performed by the Ohio Light Opera group and for the recording I am reporting on.

It is called "The Monckton Album" and it appears on the Diversions label (24110), performed by a wonderful group called Theatre Bel-Etage, conducted by Mart Sander. A personable group of principals and a very good chorus offer us excerpts from three of Monckton’s works: "Cingalee" (1904), "The Arcadians" (1909) and "Quaker Girl" (1910). The plots are immaterial, since we have only excerpts, but the complete lyrics are thoughtfully provided by the production team (although why they chose to print on a bright yellow background is beyond me).

What can I say? A composer almost totally unknown and several of his songs from long neglected works? Well, after hearing what passes for songs in current Broadway non-revival musicals, I found this set a breath of fresh air. You will too. It is available directly from Divine-Art ( in the UK.
Frank Behrens

Lionel Monckton (1861-1923), from the stable of composers working for London producer George Edwardes around 1900, is best remembered for a non-Edwardes operetta favorite, The Arcadians (1909), which has been recorded several times. Not so most of his other successes, which stopped being revived when British light opera societies switched over to American musicals. Monckton’s style is definitely post-Sullivan: a wealth of easy melodies, unsophisticated harmonies, and a certain parlor-ballad-cum-music-hall forthrightness. Musical satire? Invention? Operetta genius? Not terribly often. But Monckton had a remarkable facility for catchy songs that a chorus – and audience – could take up and, more, a wistfulness that reminds me of his contemporaries, Leo Fall and Jerome Kern.

This is a product of Theatre Bel-Etage, a theatre company in (of all places) Tallinn, Estonia. Is that where these ancient British musicals are hibernating? It’s wonderful to hear them, even in potpourri fashion (and it’s hard to tell if these are the complete original orchestrations – they sound almost computer-generated). The Arcadians excerpt prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that this show is Monckton’s finest. Included here are the comparatively unfamiliar songs – the waitresses’ chorus, ‘Fickle Fortune’, ‘Sweet Simplicitas’ and ‘We want to be Arcadians’ – and these and the rest of this wonderful score enchant, in an attractive 23-minute medley. If you would like a more accurate idea of this score, seek out the fine Ohio Light Opera recording or the superb (but deleted) excerpts on Angel, which include some tracks with original-cast members. Little in British operetta can compare with such truly bewitching bonbons as ‘The Girl with the Brogue’, ‘Half Past Two’ or ‘Charming Weather’.

The Cingalee (1904) takes place in the Ceylon of long ago colonial tea-planters – before this island paradise became the more troubled Sri Lanka. The fashion for Asian locales had been started by The Mikado and continued by The Geisha and San Toy. The condescending racial nature of the libretto is naturally outré today, and the score has none of the brilliant, otherworldly-plus-West End fascination of The Arcadians. But there are a few nice items, including the bouncy (but questionable) ‘White and Brown Girl’ and the extended finale from Act II.

You will not see The Cingalee revived; but The Quaker Girl (1910) is possible. I have been waiting for decades for more than short 78 medleys and single original-cast discs. There are 18 minutes here, and I have liked nearly everything I have heard from this score. The best bits here (hardly whole songs) include the spectacualr dancing lesson duet, with a lovely waltz; the fabulous slow waltz ‘Come to the Ball’ – taken up by the chorus to resounding effect; the cute ‘Tony from America’ (which Gertie Millar – the creatrice – made chortlingly famous); and a really catchy comic duet, ‘Mr Jeremiah, Esquire’. (The refrain begins “oh, Jerry! Will you pass the sherry?”)

The voices here, occasionally pretty, have been drilled to give an Edwardian flavour, though the vowels often have what I assume are Estonian shadings. It’s not exactly Shaftesbury Avenue. The booklet responsibly prints all the lyrics by period favorites Percy Greenbank, Adrian Ross and Arthur Wimperis – the latter wins the Derby with his clever Arcadians words. Journey back in time to the London musical a century ago.

Sharing the enormous popularity of Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas, Lionel Monckton’s The Arcadians and The Quaker Girl were London’s top selling musicals in the early 1900s. Now almost forgotten, the Bel-Etage company from Tallinn in Estonia take us on a trip down memory lane with such happy and chart topping melodies as Pipes of Pan and Come to the Ball.
David Denton